Monday, January 23, 2006

Lady Susan

My dear sister,

I congratulate you and Mr. Vernon on being about to receive into your family, the most accomplished coquette in England. As a very distinguished flirt, I have always been taught to consider her...

...but by all that I can gather, Lady Susan possesses a degree of captivating deceit which must be pleasing to witness and detect.

So begins a letter from Reginald De Courcy to his sister, married to Mr. Vernon, and residing at a lovely country estate, Churchill. The infamous Lady Susan Vernon, a widow, and mother of one daughter, made the sudden decision of visiting her brother; hence Reginald could not help writing to his sister, who would soon meet this intiguing lady in person. Through a series of other letters, that make up the entirety of the book, Lady Susan's romantic escapades are revealed for the readers' entertainment, reflection, and personal criticism, if the philippics on her character are not numerous enough in the story for your taste. However, let me aquiant you with these events, by endeavoring to give you a sketch of them now.

Lady Susan Vernon did not go to her brother's until practically driven to it. She did not have her own house, after her husband's death, and though residing at a friend's house, with her daughter at school, it wouldn't do to remain there longer. Why? Mr. Manwaring, at whose house she stayed, was in love with her. What made that so dangerous? He was married. And by her meddlesome flirtation with a gentleman whose affection was previously bestowed on Mr. Manwaring's sister, she set both female inmates of the house against her.

A removal to her friend Alicia Johnson's house in London was out of the question, so she went to her brother's though, "Charles Vernon is my aversion, and I am afraid of his wife." Thither also went Reginald, to meet this deadly middle-aged beauty. He was enchanted, and we will leave them to stir up discontent for his sister while we turn our eyes elsewhere.

Young, pretty, and neglected Frederica Vernon had been packed off to school by her conniving mother in a fit of temper. It would be no more than fair to Frederica to say that she was of no account to her parent except to make a rich alliance. So when Sir James Martin offered to marry her, nothing would please Lady Susan but that she should accept; the thought most abhorred in Frederica's mind. Now, with Lady Susan at Churchill, Mrs. Johnson was valiantly attempting to re-convince Sir James that he is in love, and persuade Frederica to marry him, if he should renew his addresses.

The 'scorceress' of this story, the 'villain', has put Reginald 'under a spell'. He has been converted to Lady Susan's fantasy of her innocence in the Manwaring affair, and does his best to convince his sister as well. Poor Catherine Vernon writes to her parents, conveying this dreadful news, for she is afraid of Lady Susan's ambitious power. Reginald, when warned by his parents that they did not look upon the match with a friendly eye, protested that he had never thought of Lady Susan in that way.

Just at the peak of this romantic crisis, Lady Susan had sent a fiery epistle to her daughter, insisting on her marriage to Sir James. The regrettable result was that Frederica ran away, was caught, and was conveyed by her uncle to Churchill, until further arrangements could be made regarding her education and residence. Her mother calmy concealed her fury under a quiet, pathetic and penitent despair, displayed to Reginald during their long walks. By her account, poor Frederica never could bear opposition well, and she was afraid she'd been too lenient. Besides all this she maliciously led him to believe Frederica an ignorant, ill-tempered girl, with no personal degree of understanding, and none of the more amiable virtues. This lead Reginald to hate the girl, declare her 'ill-favored', and slight herself while spending every possible moment with her efficious mother.

Though Reginald was no source of consolation to the martyr of this story, his sister, whose unbiased principles and natural immunity to charms kept her vision clear, was. She got to know Frederica enough to see that she was as clever as her mother, though meek and artless in the true girlish style Catherine doubted Lady Susan had ever capacitated.

Quick as she was, Lady Susan could not elude facts forever. One of the more irritating ones pushed its way through her skillfully-woven fantasies now, for they, being non-existent, could not be strong enough to keep reality eternally at bay. Sir James Martin, guilefully talked into love for Frederica, pursued her to Churchill, and, not being content with arriving unexpectedly, had to invite himself to stay at a house that belonged to no relation or even aquaintance of his own. Lady Susan was delighted, and though explanation for the persona non grata must be made, she had great pleasure in seeing him determined to remain. Her scheme ran as follows; Frederica, forbidden to speak to her aunt and uncle on the topic, would, for lack of any other option, subject herself to her mother's will and accept the proposals that would certainly be renewed.

Frederica, who had harbored an admiration for Reginald (though the compliment was reversely returned), applied to him, out of sheer desperation, acquainting him with the whole of the history, and asking that he, Reginald, exert his power to convince Lady Susan of the cruelty of a forced marriage and the unsuitableness of the object, his boyish manners, his ill propriety. The result of this plea was highly gratifying to Catherine; her brother, after an argument with Lady Susan, resolved on returning home directly to Parklands, Sir James was dismissed, and Frederica justified in Reginald's estimation.

It didn't last. By now you know Lady Susan well enough to know that her influence alone was enough to make a very flimsy tale plausible in Reginald's eyes, and that if she spoke with him before he left, under pretense that they should not part in such a state of animosity, he would be won over afresh by her charms, and converted to her falsehoods again easily enough. Such was the case.

This business accomplished, she took, by way of refreshment, a visit to London, where her enjoyments would be varied and determined by Mr. Johnson's fits of the gout. Her daughter remained stationary at Churchill, to her satisfaction. She enjoyed Mr. Manwaring's attentions. This made the unexpected sight of Reginald De Courcy quite lamentable. She'd thought him at Churchill, how dare he follow her away? At all costs, he must be kept from the truth. He called on Lady Susan one day, and she, expecting Manwaring in merely half an hour, sent him to the Johnson's under a paltry excuse, asking Alicia, via note, to keep him there as long as might be.

This, however, was her downfall. Mrs. Manwaring had gone to Mr. Johnson, her guardian, for help, and Reginald found her there. All further attempt on Lady Susan's side to pursuade him of a misunderstanding were fruitless, he left her in London to such society as she chose, and returned himself home to Parklands. Of Lady Susan, you are more anxious to hear. In three weeks' time, she announced her marriage to Sir James Martin, poor, stupid boy! and lived out the rest of her life in wealth, idleness, flirtation, and whatever plaguing she got from her tardy conscience.

Frederica's future is brighter. She resided at Churchill quite happily with her aunt, uncle, and small cousins, until the agreeable alteration of affection in a certain young gentleman we all know resulted in her marriage; her admiration had remained unchanged. The delight this brought to his family was all that could be wished, and we will drop the curtain on them satisfied, I hope, with the conclusion.


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